Archive for dark

The People at the Bottom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by stantonmccaffery

 

Shit I’ve Gotten Published Elsewhere

I had a fun story published this month on Out of the Gutter Online’s Flash Fiction Offensive called We Got a Winner.  For the first time I wrote a character based off of myself. I’ve read that that’s not recommended, but whatever, I had fun with it. I just sat at the computer and said to myself, ‘What would I do if?’ and the result is what you’ll find.

Now, the funny thing about this story is that although it’s about a guy going to the liquor store to buy a scratch-off, I’ve actually never bought one. But after reading the story, my wife went and bought me one. She actually got it for me for father’s day and said, “No matter what you’ll always be a winner to me.” You’ll understand that line more after you read the story. So, anyway, I play the scratch-off, and guess what, I win a hundred dollars off the thing. I wanted to go out and buy another one, but everyone tells me that was a total fluke.

Shit I’ve Watched

A friend of mine got me into an early screening of the horror film Don’t BreatheThis is a bit of a twist on your standard home invasion film. The invaders are the protagonists and the home-owner is the villain. Plus, there’s a totally warped third act that actually had me biting on my knuckles in the theater.

I’m typically more of a fan of horror films that are heavy on theme, message, and atmosphere, like The Witch or The Babadook, but I’ll enjoy a movie like this as long as it isn’t completely reliant on jump scares and offers the audience something new and creative. And this movie does that in spades. Trust me.

The one complaint that I’ve heard about the film is that the protagonists aren’t sympathetic, that the audience can’t invest in them because they’re sort of reprehensible people. I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, one of the three robbers is pretty cold and unsympathetic, but for the other two, it was clear to me that they were doing what they were doing because they had to. One was doing it to get enough cash so her and her little sister could move away from their abusive mother and the other was doing it only because he had a crush on the girl and wanted to help her out.

I find myself on the side of unsympathetic protagonists a lot though, so maybe that says more about me than the movie.

Shit I’ve Listened To

I recently started listening to Drive-By Truckers. They’ve got a ton of good songs, a number of which have poetic socially conscious lyrics.

But nothing is as amazing as their newest song, What It Means. 

Here’s some of the lyrics:

Then I guess there was protesting
And some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that
They ain’t called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically
Correct when we call names
But what’s the point of post-racial
When old prejudice remains?
And that guy who killed that kid
Down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend
And wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried
And laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

Shit I’ve Read

People tell me all the time about books I should read. Sometimes I get around to reading them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it takes me a long, long time. Such was the case with the classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. Not until someone let me borrow their copy did I actually get around to it. But I’m glad I did.

Now, with a lot of crime fiction, there’s a ton of characters and a ton going on. It’s mostly dialogue driven and the author doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. It’s easy to get lost. I had to read it twice to fully understand it. I’m okay with that though.I like books that I have to read twice in order to understand. They’re intriguing, like a puzzle.

The same went for the other book I read this past month, Donnybrook, by Frank Bill. Aside from having a ton of characters and a lot going on, Donnybrook is a violent book about people at the bottom, people who I always think are more interesting than people at the top. Maybe the same could be said about Donnybrook as has been said about Don’t Breathe, that the characters aren’t sympathetic, that they’re too violent, their actions too nefarious. I don’t think so. I also think that as readers, we should be challenged by authors to care about people that normally we wouldn’t consider or think twice about. In the case of Don’t Breathe it’s the home invaders and in the case of Donnybrook it’s the bare knuckle boxing meth head. If the point of reading fiction is to expand our empathy, then we need to read works with unsympathetic leads and characters.

Shit I’ve Been Thinking About/Politics

When I think about issues outside of my own life, I try as much as I can to think about the people on the bottom. It’s how I was raised. It’s part of the faith I grew up with. But also, it seems that few others do, particularly those with power.

Here’s an article from the New York Times about how little the poor have been mentioned in this year’s presidential election. I’m not convinced the New York Times cares too much about the poor either, but whatever.

As poverty continues to grow in the U.S. it seems to me like it’s something we should be talking more about, not something we should ignore like we always have in the past.

My hopes for this changing aren’t high. We had Bernie Sanders, but I’m skeptical the movement he helped to birth will continue. Movements inspired around elections don’t tend to survive them. I’m fearful that once we avoid the disaster that is Donald Trump, people will be complacent with whatever non-progress we get from Clinton. The status quo is indeed better than the regression we would get with Trump, but it’s not enough. Certainly not for the people on the bottom.

Anyway, I think about all this as I drive around my town and I see flags lowered at half staff. I’m not always sure who they’re lowered for, but I’m pretty sure they’re not lowered for the people killed by police. And they’re not lowered for people that died because they didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford whatever treatment they needed to treat whatever medical condition they had. They’re not lowered for the people at the bottom.

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We’re All Going to Burn

Posted in Horror Fiction, Sad with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

The woman and the girl ran to keep from burning. They saw a small wooden shed in the distance. For the moment, it wasn’t on fire.

They went in and huddled into a corner. It was dark inside aside from the embers that showed through the cracked wooden walls. They covered themselves with a wool blanket the woman carried with her. Once they were under the blanket the woman held the girl close. The girl reached to hold her hand.

“Thank you for being with me,” said the girl.

The woman saw a giant flame fall to the ground nearby. She could hear people screaming. “Well, thank you for being with me. You close your eyes now.”

Though dotted with racing flames, the sky was darker than it had ever been before.

“It’s okay,” said the girl.

“Yep, it is.”

She looked up. “I don’t mean it the way you mean it.”

Fire fell closer this time. They could hear it crackle. “What are you talking about?”

“When you say its okay you mean that we aren’t going to burn. When I say its okay, I know we are going to burn. But that’s okay.”

The woman sighed. Ever since she found the girl filthy and living off garbage the girl could always tell when she was lying.

“I’m happy I have your hand and I can hold it”

“I wish I could make it different for you. I’m sorry things are like this. I’m sorry we have to go this way.”

The girl rubbed the woman’s hand with her thumb while she held it in her fingers. It wasn’t clear anymore who comforted whom. “Even if the sun didn’t break, we were still going to die.”

The roof caught on fire. Smoke filled their lungs. They held each other as they burned.

Always Around

Posted in Sad with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

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(Very Short Story)

Little Dorothy sat in the car next to Uncle Edward on the ride back to his home, where she would be living now that her parents were dead. She said nothing during their funeral, but now had something on her mind.

“Mother and Father will always be with me.”

Edward turned his head, a little surprised. “Yes,” he said, “that is right, Dorothy.” He looked back at the road.

Dorothy continued speaking while she looked down at the frills on her dress. “They will be in the air and the ground and the trees and in everything. That is what Mother said.”

Edward pulled the car into his driveway and looked back at Dorothy when he stopped the car. “Okay, time to go inside.”

Dorothy was shown to her new room. It had a large window that overlooked a park across the street. The park had a neatly trimmed lawn and many tall old trees. Dorothy stood at the sill and stared at the park all afternoon until she was called downstairs for suppertime.

Together, Edward and his niece ate meatloaf at the kitchen table. Dorothy missed her mother’s meatloaf. She missed the sound her father made when he ate it.

“Do you like your new room?” asked Edward.

Dorothy nodded her head. “Yes,” she answered, “I do, Uncle Edward.”

“That’s a good girl. Now, go wash up and get ready for bed.”

As the sun started to rise the next morning, Dorothy lay with her head on the pillow, her new pillow. It was soft and it was clean. But it didn’t smell like her pillow and it didn’t feel like her pillow. She missed her bed too. She wanted to be in her old room, living her old life. Her mother said they would always be with her, but she couldn’t see her around and couldn’t feel her in the air.

She sat up. Maybe she could feel her parents outside, with the trees and the fresh air. She put her feet on the ground and, in her night-gown, walked downstairs and outside. She walked across the street with the cold early morning air teasing goose bumps out of her skin. She walked to the biggest tree she could find.

Edward went to wake Dorothy for morning oatmeal and found her bed empty, but still warm. The door to the bathroom was open, so he peeked inside: she wasn’t there. He quickly checked all the other rooms. Then he looked out the front window and saw a small figure over in the park across the stree. He ran outside in his bathrobe and slippers.

“Dorothy! Honey, what are you doing?”

Dorothy turned around and looked at her uncle. “I want Mother and Father.” Her eyes were wet and pink with tears. Her bare feet were dirty.

Edward ran to her and picked her up. He put his hand on the top of her hair; it was damp from the morning fog.

“I know. I know.”

Edward stood holding her for a minute, rocking her gently back and forth, and thought about what she had said on their way home from the funeral. He looked up at the trees and wondered about his sister and her husband.

Don’t Trust Words of Encouragement from a Giant Squid

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2013 by stantonmccaffery

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When Bobby told his Mom there was a voice coming from under his bed, she interpreted it as a normal childhood fear; certainly there wasn’t really something under his bed. She never even checked. When Bobby told his Mom the voice was encouraging, nice even, she interpreted it as a sign of a healthy, normal imagination; nothing to be concerned about.

When Bobby insisted on wearing a towel draped around his neck to school, like a super-hero’s cape, his Mom was a little embarrassed, but she let it slide; let him be himself, she thought. When the school principal saw Bobby in his towel-cape, he smiled; another kid being creative, nothing to be concerned about.

In art class, when Bobby drew a picture of a giant squid under his bed, talking to him, its sharp beak bleeding, his art teacher was disturbed. She talked to Bobby about it. Sensing her concern, Bobby lied. No, he didn’t think it was real. Yes, it was just make believe. The kid was weird, beyond a doubt, thought the art teacher, but ultimately he was harmless; nothing to be concerned about.

When the school janitor saw Bobby go up the stairs, towards the roof, he was tired and angry. He’d spent his whole life putting saw dust on vomit and cleaning snot off of desks. He didn’t give a shit what the kid was doing on the roof. He soon regretted feeling that way, especially when he had to scrape Bobby’s dead body off the sidewalk.

When the media caught wind of the story, they condemned the school and his mother. How could they have missed the signs? Clearly they should have been concerned.

When the giant squid learned of Bobby’s death, it laughed. It never thought the kid would actually believe he could fly.

(c) Stanton McCaffery, September, 2013

Don’t Dogs Do the Strangest Things?

Posted in Crime fiction, Horror Fiction with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2013 by stantonmccaffery

Their second day in the house was when she found the skulls.

17 Brian Street had been on the market for two years before John and Susan Myers moved in. With the depressed credit market, it was hard for them to get a mortgage. They persisted and eventually prevailed even if the neighborhood they moved into was a bit odd – there were cat ladies, women in moo moos that sat on their porches all day, and crazy men that cursed obscenities at the sky when it rained.

Susan didn’t care. She had her own home, and more importantly, she had her own yard. At last, she could garden without having to get approval from some stuck up nosey-ass landlord. The day after the closing, Susan woke up and went to Home Depot. She picked up shovels, trowels, a hoe, fertilizer, some flowery gardening gloves, and tomato seeds.

She sped home like a demon, put on her new gloves, got on her knees, and stuck the trowel into the ground. The soil smelled just like it should have, like dirt. She stirred it up. She smiled. Just when she had made the dirt soft enough to sift through her fingers, she stuck her hand into the ground. She hit something hard.

She tapped on it with her finger. It wasn’t a rock. She got her hand around it and pulled out a white, dirty oval. She brushed it off. It was a dog’s skull. A little creepy, but still quaint. Someone had loved their dog so much they buried them in their front yard to keep them close.

She shook her head and thought that even though she’d be disturbing someone else’s memories, she had to dig up the rest of the skeleton. Her tomatoes wouldn’t grow with the dead dog there. What she pulled out of the ground next is what gave her the stroke. It was another skull, but this one didn’t belong to a dog. This one belonged to a human, an infant human.

The dog’s name was Farrah, but no one knew the baby’s name. Farrah’s owner Mitchell was the last person to see the baby before he buried it underground and even then it was already dead.

Mitchell was a drunk and beat Farrah daily, usually with a mop handle for peeing in the house. Farrah never attacked Mitchell, but she growled at him constantly and every once and a while during walks, she would come to a dead stop for no reason. She’d lock her legs and refuse to budge. She was a Doberman, and a strong Doberman.

One day, Farrah pulled this stunt on the way home from the liquor store. Mitchell had already guzzled his weight in alcohol before he went out to restock and didn’t have the strength to pull Farrah or the patience to try to persuade her to walk. He dropped the leash, told his dog she could find her own fucking way home, and walked away.

When Farrah came home she had a dead baby in her mouth. She was carrying it softly and hadn’t left even the tiniest tooth mark in its flesh. She rested the body on the front lawn and sat down next to it. She started to whimper.

When Mitchell saw what Farrah had brought home, he freaked. He tried to grab the baby and stuff it in a garbage bag but Farrah barked and twitched as if she’d contracted rabies. She lunged at his hand and showed her white dagger-like teeth and pink gums. Mitchell ran into the house and came back out with a shovel.

“Come here Farrah,” he said softly with the shovel behind him. “I’m sorry honey,” he said, alcohol steaming from his mouth.

With her head down she walked closer. When she was within an arm’s length, he came down hard on the top of her head. Her teeth crunched and her skull cracked. She bled from her eye sockets. He gave her a few more solid whacks to make sure she was dead.

He dug a deep hole and threw in the baby and then the dog.

“Some poor asshole is gonna go to dig a garden and give themselves a fuckin’ stroke,” he said.

The One Thing I Know About Card Games

Posted in Crime fiction with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by stantonmccaffery

I don’t know any card games. Poker never made sense to me. But I do know this much: a lot has to do with the hand you’re dealt. Such is the same with life.

Back in days when it was bros before homework – hoes hadn’t figured into the equation yet – we snuck into Adam Sandler movies and ate so much sugary shit our teeth hurt. Going to the movies with Henry was a blast. He threw popcorn at the screen and made lewd comments at people as they walked by looking for seats.

At school, the same shenanigans continued. His brother owned a porn shop, so when we were a few years older – and when hoes did start to matter – he’d come in with a backpack filled with Penthouse and sell them for a few dollars each. He got thrown out of health class for yelling, “hey, give me a kiss!” when the teacher explained that a labia looked like a pair of lips.

He was a clown. He was my friend.

Henry and I shared a sense of humor, a taste in music, and an attitude towards authority figures. Our home lives though, no matter how much we thought the same and felt the same, our home lives were different, and that’s what mattered. My family had its share of screaming matches and bouts of mental illness, but my father never held my mother’s face to the stove and turned on the burner. I was never sent to a foster home. My brother never made me perform sexual favors.

My room at home had a door, a cheap one that I punched a hole in at some point, but a door nonetheless. Henry’s room had a plastic divider that child services told his mother she had to put up in order for it to qualify as a bedroom. It was really just a closet.

I went to college. Henry’s mother threw him out of the house when we were in high school for a reason I never knew forcing him to drop out at age 17. When I was worrying about the first semester’s final exams, he was worrying about finding a place to sleep. Eventually he would find an abandoned strip mall. This is where he contracted meningitis and died.

That’s Henry’s story. He was my friend.

When people talk to me about self-made men and about how everybody’s got a chance, I tell them about Henry, and the hand he was dealt, and how he never had no fucking chance.